One such cartoonist was the man whose fame has far outlived the characters he created, such as Mike and Ike (They Look Alike), Boob McNutt and Professor Lucifer Gorgonzola Butts. I refer to the inventor, engineer, sculptor, writer and Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist, Reuben “Rube” Goldberg.
Goldberg was born, patriotically, on July 4, 1883 in San Francisco. His father (the City Police and Fire Commissioner) wanted Rube to pursue a career in engineering, but after six months with the city as an engineer, he resigned to join the San Francisco Chronicle as a sports cartoonist. In 1907 he moved to New York and drew cartoons for five newspapers.
The 1933 article The Funny Papers explains how Goldberg became a comic strip artist. It seems that a sports cartoon he was drawing for the New York Evening Mail didn’t fill the space alloted. A co-worker suggested filling the space with a “Foolish Question” drawing of a man (who had fallen off the Flatiron Building) being asked if he’d been hurt….after which Rube turned to comedy, became syndicated in 1915 and gained nationwide popularity. He was so prolific that he simultaneously produced several cartoon series, one of which involved comical inventions that accomplished something simple by highly complicated means, and the rest is history. To this day, they are called “Rube Goldberg” inventions, and he is the namesake of the Reuben Award for Cartoonist of the Year, and the inspiration for international competitions known as Rube Goldberg Machine Contests. Three Stooges fans may be interested to know that Goldberg wrote a 1930 Stooges film called Soup to Nuts, featuring his devices and sculptures.
Another San Francisco native, Harry “Bud” Fisher, created the first daily comic strip (Mutt and Jeff) in 1907 and was the first cartoonist to copyright his own strip. Among his eccentricities was an obsession for excelling in trivia by devouring the World Almanac and other books in order to know more odd facts and statistics than anyone. Between cartooning, writing, making silent movie shorts, vaudeville tours and indulging his passion for horse racing by buying a racing stable (one of his horses won the Preakness), he found time to spend time in Europe, where he met a Countess and married her on the high seas; they separated shortly thereafter, as must you and I at this point….
TO BE, OR NOT TO BE, CONTINUED (THAT BE THE QUESTION).